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Karma Dance

Karma Dance: Tribal dances of Orissa

The Karma dance of Orissa is basically a tribal dance form of the Binjahal,Kharia,Oraon,Kisan and Kol tribal that is undertaken annually on the karma festival although the same is performed in different social occasions as well. Karma the famous autumnal festival, which starts from the 11th day of the bright fortnight of the month of Bhadrab, and continues for some days till the month of Aswin is a major occasion to celebrate of the tribal. The Karma tree representing Karma—the God of Fate, is worshipped on this occasion. A branch of the tree is cut down with due ceremony, planted in the middle of the altar with a cloth wrapped round it. The devotees drink wine, and burn it in then lamps. Then duly dressed, they dance round and round the canopy and plantain trees planted for decorative purposes.

The Karma dancers have their professional party. When a son is born to the childless parents with the grace of Karma God, they invite the party of dancers. The songs are like those of patua and Dandanata and deal with Puranic events or events of the folk tale. Love songs are in form of questions and answers between a party of young men and young ladies. Ladies and young men dance delightfully in a circle holding each other’s arms round the branch. A group of men with drums stands in the center while a line of women is formed in front of them. The women move to and fro and circle round the men. The Karma dance continues from dusk to dawn. Dance groups drawn from nearby villages dance alternatively throughout the night. In the early morning they carry the Karam branches singing and dancing and then immerse them ceremonially in a river or tank and then disperse. Sometimes women begin the song and men have to pick up the tune and words and answer them. It is an amusing sight to see a few expert women dancers confounding a group of men. Sometimes men also take the initiative.

Karma Dance Images

The technique of the Karma dance of Orissa varies a little from tribe to tribe. The Kharias, Kisans and Oraons dance in a circular pattern, where men and women dance together. It is always headed by a leader and generally the men at the head of the line. Only the best of dancers join in right next to or near him. Very young girls and children join in at the tail to learn the steps. When the dancing grows fast the dancers of the tail drop out to let the seasoned dancers show their skill. The dancers hold hands in different patterns in sync with different styles. Sometimes they simply hold hands and sometimes hands are placed on the waist of the co-dancer or are crossed. It is the legs and the feet which play the pivotal role in the dance. The dance begins lightly with simple steps forward and backward, left and right, then gradually the steps grows smaller and faster, growing more and more complicated, until that dance reaches its peak. Then it goes gradually to the first steps as the music leads to give dancers rest. The dancers have no special costume for the occasion. They dance with their usual attires which they wear daily. The dance is usually held in the courtyard of the village. In the center of the courtyard a bamboo is fixed and it is split into four up to a certain height and then bent to form the arches. Each split is fixed with a pole on the outer side to form the arch. Then it is decorated with festoons of mango leaves and water lilies giving it a festive look. The ground is neatly plastered with cow-dung. Men and women dance winding in and out beneath the arches.

 There are many varieties of Karma songs viz. Karma of the hills, Karma of the forest, Baiga Karma and so on. The Gond tribal believe that once caught by a Lahaki Karma (is sung very rapidly) men are lost to the world. They leave their wives and children and go away. Karma dance or song is very popular in the tribal population of Orissa residing in Sambalpur,Keonjhar and Phulbani.